Haiku in the US


Haiku in the US

Some thoughts by Jim Wilson
February 2011

I want to suggest that there are two haiku worlds in the U.S.
The first is a kind of 'official' haiku world. It is the world of the HSA and Northern California Haiku Poets, and other local Haiku organizations. They tend to be small but dedicated.

With the significant exception of Yuki Teiki, they all tend to advocate for free verse haiku. It is in this sense that I meant that American Haiku has become a type of free verse; that is to say that official, or organizational, American Haiku has become a type of free verse.

Outside of the context of official haiku organizations there is another type of haiku. It is not organized; that is to say it doesn't have any official organization advocating for its point of view. That's not unusual; there's no official organization advocating for an approach to the villanelle or the sestina. Haiku poets in this other, non-official, group tend to write syllabic haiku rather than free verse. They tend to approach haiku in the same way that a cinquain poet would approach cinquain. I mean that the syllable count and lineation are the starting points.

When I have communicated with this second group what I have learned is that they are aware that their approach differs from what something like the HSA advocates, but they nevertheless find a syllabic approach fruitful, often saying it 'works' for them. And so they continue.

What I am wondering, or suggesting, is that this second group is more extensive than at first one might guess. As I posted above, if one goes by publications, then the poets who write syllabic haiku are very active. I don't know how one would go about comparing quantity, but two free verse haiku poets (one of whom is very well known) have said to me that they suspect the majority of haiku written in the U.S. are syllabic. Again, this is a guess, but it is an informed one.

In my opinion the two types have become different forms of poetry.
For example, it would make sense to me to have a separate forum here at Aha for 'syllabic haiku' in the section where Jane has cinquain. The reason I think they have become distinct forms is because they have developed different standards of judgment.

The free verse haijin values succinctness, terseness, and a kind of rapid-fire minimalist syntax. The syllabic haijin tend to compose in a syntax that is more like common speech, often mimicking ordinary, overheard, conversations or even directly quoting from those and other sources like song.

From the free verse haijin's perspective the syllabic haijin is 'wordy' and 'padding'.
But from the syllabic haijin's perspective they are just being 'natural'.

From the syllabic haijin's perspective free verse haiku are often truncated and lack flow.
From the free verse haijin's perspective 'less is more'.

In other words, I'm tentatively suggesting that the two approaches have grown up and they have matured into differentiated poetic forms. Though they share the same name, 'haiku', they are composing differently, using different standards, and I believe as the years go by these differences will become greater and more apparent.

I don't think this is to be regretted.
But I believe recognizing this could prove helpful to all concerned.

Jim Wilson

Shaping words

Shaping Words is dedicated to the exploration of formal syllabic verse in English.


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